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Ifeoma Anyaeji: Transmogrification    Sep 26 - Nov 2, 2013

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Ifeoma Anyaeji
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Oche Onodu
Ifeoma Anyaeji
Oche Onodu
 
 
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Skoto Gallery is pleased to present Transmogrification, an exhibition of recent mixed media sculpture by the Nigerian-born artist Ifeoma Anyaeji. This will be her first solo show at the gallery. The artist will be present at the reception on Thursday, September 26th, 6-8pm.

Ifeoma Anyaeji’s recent sculpture employs a virtuosic ability to create elegant forms drawn from architecture and domestic furniture design through the reconstruction of found objects such as the ubiquitous plastic bags and bottles. She utilizes a process that is physically and conceptually steeped in memory, history and the passage of time to create work that radically put into question conventional notions of what sculpture is. Using hair plaiting technique known as Threading from her homeland, she threads and braids discarded plastic bags into plasto-yarns which she combines with strong compositional organization to create complex yet lyrical assemblages of everyday objects that reflect subtle understanding of context and awareness of the relationship between function and experimentation. There is an abiding urge in her work to highlight the relevance of social responsibility to the environment in today’s hyper-consumer society as she engages with the cyclical nature of production, accumulation and regeneration in the creative process, and as stated by the artist “My concept of material reuse through the transformation of an object’s physical state, is to echo the environmental implication of accumulation and the extensiveness of a politicized archeology of modernity’s consumptive system”.

By imbuing mundane materials, marks and processes with surprising significance and intricate design, her work is transformed into extraordinary visual poetry with textures of vibrations and pulsations that allow the viewer a freedom of imagination, interpretation and emotional response. Her use of obsessive repetition shows affinities with the concerns of African traditional textile weaving and hair braiding techniques, and seeks to resurrect gender-categorized craft and decorative art as viable means of artistic expression, as well as its political and subversive potential. Included in this exhibition is Oche Onodu (Couch), 2012, a joyous mixed-media installation that meanders and infiltrates the architecture of spaces, as it implores us to question our everyday experiences in both a physical and mental sense. She inventively combines her materials to form bold abstract composition that evinces persistent experimentation and a mastery of technique that goes beyond accepted boundaries of the medium. Allusions and metaphors abound as she weaves together personal and collective memories with reflections on universal experiences that celebrates openness to the world and to diversity. Although its visual impact is greatest from far away, a closer look offers a rewarding experience and palpable sensations evocative of the expansive possibilities of life and art.

Ifeoma Anyaeji was born 1981 in Benin City, and hails from Anambra State in the south eastern part of Nigeria. She obtained an undergraduate degree, with honors from the University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria in 2005 before traveling to the US in 2010 as a Ford Foundation International Fellow where she obtained her MFA in 2012 at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri. She has participated in several solo and group exhibitions both at home and abroad, including ‘Reclamation’, University of Missouri, Columbia in 2012. She was the Washington University in St Louis Nominee for the 2012 International Sculpture Center Outstanding Student Achievement Award. Her work is in several collections in Africa, Europe and the US. She currently teaches at the University of Benin, Nigeria.

Artist Profile
Ifeoma Ugonnwa Anyaeji is a Nigerian-based artist, born in 1981. While art was a great passion it wasn't her first choice of 'profession' as it didn't seem a sensible choice. Studying art at undergraduate level was still not a guarantee that she would end up becoming a full time art practitioner, because she already had a degree in another field. However, growing up in a society fueled by the dualities of excess and repression; a country in the grip of national schizophrenia from which it has seldom emerged and where art was yet to be accepted as a “decent” career, she decided to take art as a full career and explore her boundaries, as a female artist, beyond her undergraduate training.

Three years ago, she decided to pursue her academic studies. Her research interest in repurposing discarded plastic bags (pure water sachet) earned her the prestigious Ford Foundation Fellowship award, and an opportunity to study for a Masters in Fine Arts degree program at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. This period of dislocation and unwitting wrench from the familiar gave her more confidence to explore other mediums, including her new found medium - plastic bags, which she had developed in Nigeria, and express truths which had laid recognized but unclaimed within her. As a woman, she had always wanted to sculpt but found traditional materials both strenuous and unwieldy. She transferred her crocheting skills, her experience of traditional hair plaiting techniques and passion about up-cycling to her new medium, and developed a form of sculpture she calls Plasto-art. Here she found she could manipulate these materials to create dynamic, and mobile sculptures which were also comparatively light, easy to move, assemble and dissemble. In her words, “ my sculptures are highly conceptual and in making forms which reference household furniture and architectural structures I draw from traditional crafts, techniques and processes particularly those which may seem out of fashion. I love to up-cycle ideas and materials, challenging the peculiarities of transforming these materials. There is a social-cultural meaning offered by my sculptures, not just aesthetics”.

With her new process of making, Ifeoma aims to re-define a gender-categorized craft into a new order of contemporary gender & race defying art. Through these sculptures she clearly expresses her disproval at a myriad number of issues including excessive accumulation of non-biodegradable domestic materials with little or no regards for the environment. While her sculptures are bold and assertive, in contrast, her paintings are delicate, gentle, fine works observing the fragility of humanity and beauty of the human race. These paintings, while they have organically metamorphosed to include found objects, remain supremely and unashamedly feminine.

Ifeoma has had several solos and group exhibitions both in Nigeria and international, including ‘Reclamation’ in University of Missouri in Columbia in 2012 and 'Here & Now' in New jersey in 2010. She currently teaches at the University of Benin, where she gained her first degree, in painting.

Artist Statement
My works are about up-cycling and material reuse, in review of our cultural attitude to the concept of product newness, value and expiration date, as well as social responsibility to the environment. In creating these works I reflect on the cultural prescription of value and value systems, particularly from my home country Nigeria. My concept of material reuse through the transformation of an object’s physical state, is to echo the environmental implication of accumulation and the extensiveness of a politicized archeology of modernity’s consumptive system. The discarded plastic bags and bottles, two common environmental pollutants, are the main media with which I visually express the narrative of a domestic object’s possible transition from the discarded to the aesthetic or functional. This I conceive by creating a complexity of sculptural forms that allow for multiple interpretations of the functionality of an object after it has been consumed. I envisage a multiplicity of uses while retaining the physical state of the discarded object. As an artist I am constantly intrigued by craft processes. Therefore, my work incorporates the processes of a communal hair plaiting technique from my home country, Nigeria, called Threading. Using this hair craft technique, otherwise termed “old fashioned”, I am able to extend the functionality of these discarded plastic bags and bottles beyond covers and packaging. I beautifully transmogrify their physical appearance by braiding the bags into Plasto-yarns, using these to create objects that reference architectural forms and domestic furniture. My repetitive process of Threading and choice of medium are reminiscent of the domestic lifestyle and accumulative nature of the average consumer. The works, which sometimes are displayed as installations, are conceptual and appear organic; presenting non-biodegradable medium, like plastic (Polyethylene) bags and bottles, as otherwise.

Thoughts on Ifeoma Anyaeji’s work
"Working primarily wit h the ubiquitous plastic grocery bag, emblematic in its reference to both consumption and waste, Ifeoma Anyaeji’s weaves dense, sculptural tapestries that reclaim both material and process. Using a Nigerian hair braiding technique to coil the bags, they are bound together using artisan practices of basketry and textile weaving--low-tech, manual practices that are often communal in nature. Colors from the bags’ industry branding and marketing logos are bound and partitioned to create undulating patterns and waves of thick materiality. Dizzying in their congested space, at times the patterns read as aerial views of smog-filled manufacturing sites, the wrapped and coiled plastic milk jugs creating multiple smokestacks of varying heights, each embedded in a swirling landscape of commercial activity. The circular patterns then shift, simultaneously becoming ephemeral, dreamlike scapes of water, clouds, and natural formations. In this, the pieces point to both problem and solution, reflecting attitudes of both indignation and hope.

Cheryl Wassenaar, 2012
Associate Professor of Art,
Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

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